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“Foxglove Summer” by Ben Aaronovitch

foxglove summer

The Peter Grant series has become one of my favourite current series, the adventures of a Metropolitan Police Constable recruited to be the apprentice of one of Britain’s last wizards had been consistently entertaining over the last four books. The previous book, “Broken Homes”, had ended on the best finale in the series so far as a sudden reversal snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the Folly’s effort to capture a very dangerous rogue magician. Foxglove Summer picks up the story a few weeks after the end of the previous book but isn’t really a continuation of the story, instead it sees Peter being sent far away to rural Herefordshire to investigate whether there’s any supernatural involvement in the disappearance of two 11-year old schoolgirls. There are occasional references to the ongoing investigation into the Faceless Man and his allies but most of the focus on the abduction case. While it is a little bit frustrating to have to wait longer for the next chapter in the series’ primary plotline I think the book does benefit from focusing on a single case, in the past splitting the narrative between two different plotlines had left the second book “Moon Over Soho” feeling like the weakest entry in the series so far with one plotline far more compelling than the other.

There might not be much progress in the case against the Faceless Man but we does get some information about other elements of the background, namely some welcome detail about what happened during World War 2 in Ettersburg, an event that’s been frequently referenced due to its cataclysmic event on Britain’s magical community but one that had only been vaguely referred to in the past. There’s also some good ongoing characterisation for Peter as he has an opportunity to try to heal some of the emotional scars left by the traumatic events in previous books. Most of the characters in the book are new, but there is a return appearance for Peter’s potential romantic interest Beverly Brook and while the appearances by the River families in previous book have sometimes felt a bit disconnected to the main plot I think it works better here.

Characterisation has been one of Aaronovitch’s strengths in the series and there are some interesting new characters in minor roles although few of them get much in the way of characterisation. Local policeman Dominic Croft does make a likeable sidekick for Peter although he does seem unrealistically blasé in the face of the revelations about magic. In previous books London has almost seemed like a main character in the stories, this book takes Peter out of his urban comfort zone so there aren’t as many of the asides on local history that featured in his narration of the previous stories with a few scenes showing Peter a bit baffled by the way of life in the English countryside.

The abduction case is one of the more interesting mysteries in the series. The tension caused by the girls’ mysterious disappearance is shown both by the panicking families and their differing reactions and by the increasing desperation of the local police force to try to solve the mystery while the local and national press are breathing down their necks. The portrayal of police officers and their investigations in the series has always felt very plausible (aside from the magical elements) and this continues here with the police showing both cynicism and a stubborn determination to do as much as they can to solve the crime.

The story all builds to a tense finale and I think the resolution to the plot does work well although it does perhaps a bit rushed towards the end. There are a number of unanswered questions left at the end, I think it is reasonable to leave a number of mysteries particularly in regard to the motivations of supernatural beings but it might have been nice to at least hear Peter’s theories about why events unfolded the way they did.

Overall, I’d say this is up there with the best of the series so far although hopefully the next book will feature a return to the series’ main plotline.

Rating : 8 / 10


“Broken Homes” by Ben Aaronovitch


I enjoyed reading the first three books in Ben Aaronovitch’s “Peter Grant” series, there’s something addictive about them and they were all great fun to read, even if the two sequels weren’t quite as good as the original “Rivers of London”. The fourth book in what looks to be a long running series continues that trend, it is another entertaining read although again it is falls slightly short of being as good as it perhaps could have been.

I thought the book took a while to build up momentum. The early stages of the book consist of a series of loosely-linked investigations into various crimes and mysterious happenings, all with the ultimate aim of tracking down the series’ main antagonist, the sorcerer they know only as the Faceless Man. Periodically these investigations are interrupted by subplots revisiting some of the plotlines introduced in previous books such as Peter providing police cover for a magical ceremony held by the river spirits of London or the Folly’s caretaker Molly behaving mysteriously. I do like the hints of happenings in the wider magical world but it doesn’t help with the pacing of the novel and arguably not enough happens in these subplots to really justify their existence in this book. Another small problem is that although it’s nice to focus on the Faceless Man storyline again, the various crimes investigated in the first part of the book aren’t all that interesting in their own right.

The pace picks up as the book moves past its halfway point when Peter and Lesley go undercover in Skygarden, an unloved post-war housing estate which seems to be the focus of the Faceless Man’s plotting. As the book progresses the various plotlines and investigations start to come together leading to possibly the best finale in the series so far. Two particular highlights of the story are Peter’s boss Nightingale getting a chance to show more of his powers than he has in previous books and an intriguing final plot twist which is surprising but also makes a lot of sense given earlier events. Although the series as a whole is a relatively light read it does manage the occasional shocking moment and there a couple of moments like that in this book. The ending does make me keen to read the next book in the series, although it remains to be seen whether it will focus much on the overall story arc or whether it will be more of a standalone story like “Whispers Underground”, the previous book in the series.

The characterisation continues to be one of the highlights of the series and Peter continues to be a compelling narrator of the story. His occasional tendency for his narration to get sidetracked into discussing things that interest him is charming and it works well in this case as his interest in architecture has a lot of relevance to the plot when he investigates the mysterious legacy of the architect who designed Skygarden. The supporting cast continues to be good, with Lesley in particular getting some good characterisation in this book, although it’s slightly frustrating that we don’t learn much more about Nightingale, who is possibly the most interesting character in the series.

The copy of the book I read had a bonus short story with Peter and colleagues investigating a haunted bookstore. It’s a slight but mildly amusing story, although its placement is a bit disconcerting, since it is at the end of the book despite clearly taking place before the events in Broken Homes.

Overall, Broken Homes is another entertaining novel which takes a while to get going but once it does it delivers one of the best stories in the series so far.

Rating : 8 / 10


“Whispers Underground” by Ben Aaronovitch


The first two books in Aaronovitch’s Fantasy/Detective novel series had both been entertaining stories as detective constable Peter Grant tried to adjust to his new role as apprentice to the Metropolitan Police’s lead investigator of supernatural crimes and the third book is another good entry in the series.

This time Grant is investigating the murder of a young American student whose body was found on the tracks just outside Baker Street Underground Station. This initially seems to be a mundane, if mysterious crime, but Grant feels that magic was involved in the killing and his investigation will lead him to discover long-hidden secrets in the dark tunnels beneath London. He also has to deal with the parallel investigation by a FBI agent (the dead student having been the son of an American politician) who is adept at ignoring the technicalities of being outside her jurisdiction which leads to the additional complication of Grant having to investigate without letting her find out that he is the apprentice of one of Britain’s last magicians. There is also a parallel plot as Grant and his colleagues continue to investigate the mysterious and powerful magician who confronted them in the previous book in the series.

There are a lot of things to like about this book. The characterisation is strong again, Peter is an entertaining narrator and a likeable protagonist and there’s some welcome character development for his colleague Leslie as she adjusts to her new role working alongside Peter in The Folly. Agent Reynolds is a good addition to the cast as well, although her initial introduction suggests that there might be a fairly clichéd clash of cultures between her and Peter they do make a reasonably good team after some initial misunderstandings. The exploration of the hidden depths of London’s underground is interesting, as is the continuation of Peter and Inspector Nightingale’s quest to track down the enigmatic Faceless Man, however one downside is that the actual murder investigation itself isn’t as interesting as the other elements. Although some of the subplots have good endings the actual resolution of the murder investigation is disappointing and manages to be simultaneously dull, rushed and implausible including the murder confessing to the crime in a way reminiscent of a bad TV murder mystery. It’s also a bit disappointing that we don’t end up learning much more about the Nightingale’s background or the history of the decline of magic in Britain, this was one of the more interesting parts of the previous book but there isn’t much extra information given here.

This continues to be a good series, however like the previous novel “Moon Over Soho” is doesn’t feel as if it has quite realised its full potential either as a detective story or a fantasy story.

Rating : 7.5 / 10


“Moon Over Soho” by Ben Aaronovitch


Detective Constable Peter Grant is adjusting to his new life as the apprentice to one of Britain’s last wizards (who is also Peter’s superior in the Metropolitan Police) and trying to come to terms with the ways in which his life changed during the first book, “Rivers of London”. His latest case is to investigate the untimely deaths of a series of men which Peter and his boss believe may have been caused by a supernatural being. The victims were seemingly unrelated, the only apparent connection being that they were all big jazz fans and part of the investigation involves Peter revisiting his childhood growing up as a the son of a respected jazz musician. Although that plot makes up most of the book there is also another investigation into a rogue magician who was associated with an unsavoury supernatural club and may be the most dangerous adversary Peter has yet faced.

I really enjoyed Rivers of London, the first book in this series, and I thought Moon Over Soho was almost as good although the plot does take a while to really get going. The pacing is a little bit slow to begin with as Peter Grant starts to investigate two different sets of separate supernatural murders but it picks up pace in the second-half of the book and has a fast-moving climax. Both the mysteries are reasonably interesting, although the background history of Inspector Nightingale and the Folly is probably the most intriguing bit again, with a bit more revealed in addition to what we learned in Rivers of London – Nightingale’s return to the long-abandoned school where he learned his magic was a particularly effective scene. I think Aaronovitch possibly needs to work a little bit harder on his plot twists, since this is the second book in a row where I've spotted one some time before any of the characters figured things out.

Grant's narration was entertaining again, mixing a fair amount of humour with some deft exposition about policing, magic and London, and he continues to be a believable character even when he is doing something very foolish. Some of the supporting cast are good characters, although some others struggle to develop any characterisation beyond a couple of quirks.

Overall, it was an entertaining read, and the unresolved plotline with the rogue magician is something that seems like it should provide good material for future books in the series.

Rating : 7 / 10


“Rivers of London” by Ben Aaronovitch


PC Peter Grant is guarding a murder scene when a witness approaches him to say they witnessed the killing. Normally, the police are only too happy to have witnesses come forward, but in this case it is an event which is going to change Grant’s career, life and understanding of reality completely since the witness in question happens to be a 19th Century ghost. Grant’s encounter with the ghost soon comes to the attention of DCI Thomas Nightingale, the Metropolitan Police’s lead investigator of supernatural crimes and the last survivor of a centuries-old order of magicians found by Isaac Newton. Nightingale decides that Grant has a natural aptitude for magic and takes him on as an apprentice, teaching him magic as the same time as having him assist in the murder investigation which turns into an increasingly complex case as the number of victims increases.

“Rivers of London” (which was retitled “Midnight Riot” in the US despite the fact that the riot in the book doesn’t take play at midnight) was a very enjoyable book. One of the blurbs on the cover tried to position it as a mixture of Harry Potter and a police procedural, but while I agree with the police part of the description, I think Tim Powers would probably be a more apt comparison than J.K. Rowling. Like Powers' best novels, this had a detailed and evocative description of its setting written by an author obviously very familiar with London, and the supernatural elements of the plot were all tightly connected to the setting, particularly the River spirits that provide the title of the book, supernatural beings who embody various London waterways. The police aspects of the book were also written well, the protagonist is a very believable rookie police officer (the only slight criticism is that sometimes the police characters seem a bit too quick to accept the existence of magic). The story is told from Peter’s perspective and he is an entertaining narrator with a distinctively British sense of humour a number of witty and informative asides helping to add details about London and the eccentricities of police procedure. Peter’s narration is one of the main aspects that makes this book so much fun to read, even if it is occasionally slightly implausible when he goes off on a tangent about an obscure bit of London history in the middle of an otherwise tense scene.

The plot moves along at a good pace and quickly becomes compelling. There is quite a lot of time spent on characterisation and establishing the setting and the supernatural elements of the story along with a fair amount of humour, but there are also times when the plot accelerates, particularly towards the climax of the story and there are a few surprisingly shocking moments of abrupt violence.

Although this does have a complete storyline on its own, it is also very obviously the first book in what is presumably intended to be a long series and there are many aspects of the background that are only hinted at (such as Inspector Nightingale's history). A significant is spent on the titular Rivers of London, but although they do have some impact on the main plot it does feel as if the part of the plotline dealing with the river spirits has only just begun.

I think one area where the sequels could maybe improve a bit is in the characterisation. Much of the time the characterisation is fairly good and Peter does get a decent amount of character development, but the supporting characters are interesting but sometimes a bit lacking in depth and only Grant and Nightingale really get fully developed as characters.

In summary, this was a very entertaining book and an impressive start to a series.

Rating : 8 / 10